Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dogs in Germany

What is it with dogs in Germany? They're everywhere (which is not a bad thing) - in train stations, on trains, busses, and subways, in stores, under tables in resaurants, all around town - and the vast majority of them are behaving themselves. I don't see advertisements for dog training schools, but either there are lots of them around, or most Germans learn about the importance of training dogs before they buy one.

I'm not talking about service dogs - almost all dogs I have encountered here are that well-behaved and well-trained. Service dogs all over the world are specially trained to stick to business and not get distracted. It seems German dog owners have realized that all dogs can learn this.

I have been surprised at the many times a leashed dog and its owner have walked past me on the sidewalk, and the dog completely ignores me. He hardly looks in my direction when passing, he doesn't strain against his leash, digging into the pavement to try to get at me while his human tries to maintain a firm hold on the leash, and he keeps his nose where it belongs. The few dogs I've come across that were more curious were held tightly in check by their humans, and no one here has ever said to me, "Don't worry; he doesn't bite. He just wants to say hi."

The times when that has happened in the States, my thought has been, "I don't care if he doesn't bite, and I don't care if he wants to say hi. I don't want his paws on me or his nose at my bum. Keep your darling dog under control and out of my way."

There is a black lab in our neighborhood who barks at me when he's lying on his porch at a safe distance on the inside of the fenced yard. The other day he and his young human were playing in front of the house when I was walking back from the bank. The dog started trotting in my direction, and the young human darted after him, gently but firmly took him by the collar, and said "Entschuldigung!" ("Sorry!") to me, even though the dog never got close.

It seems to me that there is a high percentage of dog owners in Germany who understand the importance of training one's dog as well as continuing to work with the dog after the classes end so that they stay well-trained (they = the dog and the owner!).  How many dogs do you know who could spend two hours lying quietly under a table in a restaurant hardly being noticed while their owners eat delicious-smelling food, laughing, talking, and ignoring the dog? Dogs in Germany are used to this, it seems, and the ones that can't handle it stay home.

Just hangin' out, waiting for my human...

The other evening at our favorite local restaurant, I saw a Rhodesian Ridgeback under his owner's table. When the food was brought to the table - two rumpsteaks, wild boar, and half a duck - the dog merely lifted his head, thumped his tail once on the floor as a greeting to the server, put his head back down and resumed staring sleepily across the room. If I didn't know better, I'd have thought the dog was sedated. The darling Sheltie I grew up with (who had been to dog-training school at least twice) would have lost his mind in a situation like that and at the least would have annoyed everyone in the restaurant with his high-pitched whistle-whine begging for a plate of his own.

I like dogs. Well, wait. I like big dogs. Specifically Collies and Bernese Mountain Dogs. The kinds that don't easily fit under restaurant tables. And I especially like well-trained dogs. Whatever it is that so many German dog owners do and understand, I wish that could be marketed worldwide. I think it's neat that dogs are allowed in many places here. Sure, there are some signs (usually, and rather logically, on grocery store doors) indicating dogs are not welcome:
"We must stay outside, unfortunately!"

But the tone is friendlier than "NO DOGS ALLOWED!" Germany really does have a dog-friendly culture. Dogs are allowed in most parks. They ride public transportation. They go out to eat with their humans and accompany them while shopping. And the vast majority of the ones I've run across do all this without bothering strangers.  Braver Hund.  Good dog.

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